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Hall County may change these rules to address farm venue trend
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The Hall County Board of Commissioners is looking at a new ordinance to streamline regulation of agri-entertainment venues like the Walters Barn in Lula. - photo by Scott Rogers

More brides are walking down the aisle in a barn, and Hall County is working to more consistently regulate the venues that host those and other events.

Seven agri-entertainment venues are registered in Hall, and the venues are becoming more popular.

Sherri Christensen, an event planner with The Walters Barn in Lula, said more people are seeking out agricultural venues for their wedding as a change of scenery, and most of the barn’s business comes from out of town and out of state.

“It has a different view than Atlanta. … They’re looking for something that’s a little bit more rustic and has land available,” Christensen said. She also said fewer couples go the traditional route of getting married in a church.

Under a proposed ordinance that goes before the Hall County Board of Commissioners this week, any such venue operating without a business license would be fined $500 a day. Sarah McQuade, the county’s interim planning and development director, said the proposed ordinance would streamline regulation of agri-entertainment venues, which are currently cited for separate violations such as noise or parking.

Hall County Board of Commissioners meeting

What: Hearing and vote on proposed ordinance regulating agri-entertainment venues

When: 6 p.m. Sept. 26

Where: Hall County Government Center, 2875 Browns Bridge Road, Gainesville

Under the proposed ordinance, the venue owner would receive a written warning and a fine of up to $250 for the first violation in a 12-month period. For the second violation, the fine could go up to $500. For the third violation, the fine could be up to $1,000, plus the venue owner loses his or her business license for two years.

A hearing and vote on the ordinance will be 6 p.m. Sept. 26 at the Hall County Board of Commissioners meeting at the Hall County Government Center. 

“I think people recognize the special nature and agricultural nature of the county, that kind of lends itself to an agri-entertainment venue,” McQuade said.

Jim Walters, owner of The Walters Barn, said he owned the property for years before he started renting it out for events.

“I had a request from a friend whose daughter wanted to get married out there. Of course, I told him that would be fine,” Walters said. “One rumor led to another, and next thing you know, I have requests from all over the place.”

He has since hired Soirees Southern Events to handle events at the barn.

“I said, this is getting to be too much trouble to manage this thing, so I’m going to have to start charging a fee, maybe that will slow it down,” Walters said. “But it didn’t. It kept on getting bigger. I finally just hired a company to manage the venue and it’s worked out fine.”

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The Hall County Commission is looking at a new ordinance to regulate agri-entertainment venues like the Walters Barn in Lula. - photo by Scott Rogers

The Walters Barn hosts about 40 to 50 events per year, and while the county has given permission for up to 250 guests, most events are smaller so there is more room to dance in the barn, Christensen said. Noise disturbing neighbors is not much of a concern, she said, because Walters owns much of the surrounding property.

Michelle Gibbs is preparing to apply for a business license for LL Farms, a venue in Clermont. Commissioners approved her proposal in August, although Clermont residents had some concerns about the noise and traffic the venue could bring.

“We’ve reached out to neighbors and told them if they have any concerns, they can call us anytime or come by if they want to see the facility,” Gibbs said. “If we can help in any way, we’re doing everything we can to help the neighbors be happy.”

In 2013, an event business at the barn was shut down after an anonymous complaint to the Hall County Marshal’s Office. Later that year, commissioners denied a request to rezone the property to planned commercial development.

But now that Gibbs has approval from the county to host events there, she is taking some final steps, such as adding restrooms and a septic tank, before getting the business license.

Like Walters, she said the barn at LL Farms was first used as an event space for friends and family.

“It was just for personal use in the beginning, and my daughters got married there, and people saw and people thought, ‘let’s let our kids get married here, and you should let the community use it,’” Gibbs said.

She said the trend in farm weddings can be attributed to people’s desire to get out of a traditional wedding setting.

“It’s different than most people hosting events at a banquet hall. It’s a little bit more rustic or unique, and people like to stand out now, especially with weddings,” she said.

Gibbs said she is looking forward to opening up the space.

“Our place is amazing and different, and we think that a lot of people will like it,” Gibbs said.

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